Thursday morning we woke up to a message from the airline in our inbox warning us that our travel was likely to be disrupted due to the massive snow storm pending on the east coast. They were offering people the chance to change their flights at no fee and keeping the same fare you had paid for the original tickets. We were able to get in touch with our travel agent (the amazing Sue Sorrels) who worked after hours to get us rebooked. Initially it looked as if we would have to delay our return until Sunday because the flights were completely full with everyone else switching flights, too. She was eventually able to get us tickets to fly to San Francisco on Friday although we would have two connecting flights to get home. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we took the tickets and quickly got moving on returning home a day earlier. We began packing up and going over what other travel arrangements needed to be changed. Thursday was the day I had planned to do all of my shopping but in the end I only had time to run out for a little over an hour to get some souvenirs for the kids.
This is what a shop selling decorations for the spring festival looks like. Apologies for the quality of photos in this post. I think they were all taken in a hurry with my cell phone. Almost as soon as I returned to the hotel, we shoved the gifts into the suitcase and went down to the lobby to check out. Originally we were going to travel to Hong Kong on Friday morning, spend the day there, then travel out Saturday morning. We lost the cost of the hotel room in HK Friday night because we had booked nonrefundable thinking there was no way we would travel home earlier, only later. Of course, we were happy to be out a little bit of money to be home a full day earlier. The bonus of not having to spend 24 hours camping out in an airport somewhere was nice too.
Our agency helped us to rebook our train tickets to Hong Kong as well as a van to take us to the train station because we didn’t want to split up into two taxis. We waited in the lobby for a few minutes for our agency people to arrive with the new train tickets and August’s visa. While we were waiting, Vincent lived out every kid’s dream by riding the escalator in the lobby up and down about 20 times. You can see that the last dregs of Christmas decorations are still up at our hotel.
We got to the train station and on our train uneventfully. The train station is definitely more of the authentic Chinese experience than the airport. Few people speak English and only the most important signage is in English. Our agency people had given us instructions on where to go and how to get on the train. There were crowds of people everywhere so we shameless shoved like everyone else to stay together going through security or on escalators in the Chinese manner. Did I mention that the elevators were well hidden so we we had to haul luggage and the stroller up and down about 6 escalators? Once on the train, it was a better experience than a flight. Very comfortable and smooth. We missed the scenery since it was already dark but nothing we could do about that. We knew we had really arrived in Hong Kong when the train station people directed us to the “lift” rather than the elevator.
When we arrived in Hong Kong we then had to get to our hotel near the airport. The train station is not close to the airport. We had planned to take public transportation there but we were tired with a lot of luggage and one of the very persistent taxi drivers following us around wore us down. He assured us that we would all fit in the taxi with luggage, plus he offered us a very cheap fare for which he would accept Chinese cash. This would save us the headache of changing money, plus get us to the bed at the hotel faster so we agreed. He got our luggage in the trunk using a system of bungee cords to hold the lid down, stowing the last few bits in the back seat. Matt rode up front with him. On the left, because the driver is on the right, British style.
In the end, I think we would have gladly paid the driver more in exchange for silence. Our trip over to the airport island was like something out of a movie. Weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speed, the taxi driver kept up a monologue. Bizarrely, he kept throwing in phrases in Spanish, which he said he was learning because he knew all the young people in America are mad to learn Spanish right now. Mostly he was railing against China and “the f*cking stupid Chinese.” He said he was Chinese himself, so it was fine that he had these opinions. He also occasionally added that he was sure our son was smart, of course, not like the rest of them. We were spared the last 10 minutes of his ranting when August threw a well timed tantrum which was too loud for him to talk over. We were so glad to see our hotel!
Since we were only in Hong Kong about 12 hours we didn’t get a chance to see much of other than the view from our hotel lobby. We took the hotel shuttle next door to the airport the next morning. When we checked in, the woman at the airline desk said that she could not get any seats for us together, only 4 seats in random locations. That clearly wasn’t going to work, so she wanted to reroute us. She asked why we wanted to go to San Francisco when our ultimate destination was in the midwest? We explained about avoiding the path of the snowstorm. She wanted to put us on a flight to Newark which was leaving in an hour. She said she could seat us 2 and 2 right together, plus it would cut out our 2nd connecting flight. This was highly tempting, but we didn’t want to get stranded in Newark. We asked if the connecting flight was likely to be delayed but she did not give us the impression that she really understood this “snow” stuff we were talking about or how it could cause flight delays. Our understanding of the storm is that it wasn’t supposed to hit Newark until Saturday so we decided to take our chances and book the flight.
Matt was at the desk with her for almost an hour working on changing the flights and getting checked in. This gave us little time to catch the flight to Newark. We had to really rush through security but we did make it in time. The plane had already started boarding but it was still 20 minutes left to takeoff. While Matt was still at the check in desk, Vincent and I found this great Chinese dragon display in the airport when we were walking August around to keep him happy.
The flight to Newark was long at almost 15 hours, but went relatively smoothly. August slept for probably 3 hours total during the flight. He didn’t cry much and was fairly happy playing with the small bag of toys which I brought. There was a teenage Asian girl on the other side of him who smiled so big when I strapped him in that I thought she surely hadn’t flown before. No one is happy to have a toddler next to them on a flight! On my other side was an American expat living in Hong Kong who had adopted herself twenty years ago. She and I enjoyed talking to each other. The biggest challenge with August was that he was still on hunger strike on the plane. I think he ate 2 dinner rolls, 3 cookies, and drank about 3 oz of water the entire trip. One of the cookies was donated by the Asian teenager when she saw it was the only thing he was eating out of the breakfast provided.
We arrived in Newark and were processed by immigration in only 5 minutes. It took closer to 45 minutes our last trip. We sat down to wait for our connecting flight. Three of us ate supper but August spat out the yogurt we tried to feed him because it had granola in it. He finally broke down into a huge screaming fit from exhaustion and I assume hunger, too. He eventually fell asleep in his stroller. Vincent finished his food, said “I’m going to go to sleep now” then curled up into a tiny ball in his seat, instantly asleep. The snow was hitting DC really hard the hour we were waiting in Newark but it was only light flurries there. No delays.
August was not happy to be on another plane but he cried less than 5 minutes before falling asleep again. All four of us slept from takeoff to landing on our 2 hour connecting flight. The only other touchy moment came when we were waiting for our baggage. I went over to sit down in some chairs while Matt kept an eye out for the luggage. I guess August assumed the chairs meant we were waiting for another flight because he screamed bloody murder for the 10 minutes it took for the baggage to all show up. Occasionally he would point down the corridor as if to say that we needed to leave NOW. He was perfectly happy sitting in his stroller in the freezing cold while we waited for the parking lot shuttle. He even seemed to feel that the car ride home was progress. He did very well meeting the other children at home and ate a full bowl of oatmeal mixed with yogurt before bed. He slept pretty much the full night, waking a few times with bad dreams.
We’ve been having a slow day today but things have gone well with August. He was quickly following the other children around playing. He doesn’t like the dogs but I think he will come around to them sooner than Leo did. He even tried 4 bites of chili at supper before eating a reasonable portion of macaroni and cheese mixed with some scrambled eggs. Hopefully as he continues to settle in his appetite will improve. Currently the only thing in his life he can control is what he eats or drinks so it’s not surprising that he’s exerting control there.
Thank you to everyone who read along on our journey! We appreciate all of the prayers, comments, and messages we’ve received.